Negative attitudes towards mental illness are extremely prevalent in today's world. These attitudes often lead to prejudice, discrimination, and sometimes negative actions and reactions aimed at those diagnosed with mental illness. This stigma also often leads to unfair treatment and difficulty accessing mental health services. Approximately 20% of individuals experience mental illness in some way each year. Despite this high number, there is without a doubt a mental health stigma in our society. People are uncomfortable and threatened by mental illness and, as a result, individuals with mental health problems often experience prejudice and discrimination. Individuals with mental health problems experience stigma from family, peers, teachers, physicians and others. Stigma can be caused by a number of factors. One of the biggest factors leading to stigma is misunderstanding of false beliefs or viewpoints. When one does not understand a specific mental illness, false assumptions can easily be made. At the same time, stereotypes about people with mental illness are often perpetuated by the media. The mental health stigma often leads to a host of issues, such as violence against individuals with mental illness and reduces the likelihood of the individual seeking treatment. It also amplifies feelings of social isolation, prejudice, discrimination, low self-esteem, and shame on individuals with mental illnesses, leading to a poorer quality of life. Individuals with mental illness often stigmatize and prejudice against themselves as well. Many who are diagnosed with a mental illness think they are not as good and undervalue themselves as a result. It is even more unfortunate that this social stigma may prevent an individual who is struggling from seeking help. Treating a person as if they are not good enough because of something that is out of their control can lead to shame and low self esteem, which only amplifies the symptoms and can lead to an array of other problems.
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It is important that we as a society begin to be more compassionate and tolerant towards those who are mentally ill. In addition, we must educate ourselves about mental illness and talk about it openly. Being conscious of the language you use can also make a big difference as it is incredibly hurtful and offensive when people use words such as "crazy" or "retarded" to describe someone with issues beyond their control. The impact your words can have on those struggling can also teach others to be tolerant or intolerant depending on your tone and use of words. This requires a paradigm shift in the way we view those with mental illness. For instance, instead of simply calling someone schizophrenic, make a conscious effort to see them and talk about them as a human being who is diagnosed with schizophrenia. You can make a difference by speaking out against those who are intolerant, educating yourself and then others about mental illness, and advocating for equality and compassion for those with a mental health diagnosis. Utilize your knowledge to educate others. Little by little you can make a difference. Dr. Rachel Needle has specialized training in the area of substance abuse. She is a professional consultant to substance abuse facilities and assists them in expanding and enhancing clinical programming. Dr. Needle also does expert training on the topic of substance abuse, mental illness, and sexual health for staff members at residential and outpatient facilities that specialize in alcohol and substance abuse.
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